It’s a busy train as we roll out of Rabat meandering through the Moroccan countryside towards Fes. Standing room only, I was lucky to snag one of the last seats. It’s been close to 3 months in Rabat, almost 2 in the Oudaya apartment. Another chapter comes to a close. It seems unlikely I’ll return to Morocco. It has been enjoyable in many ways, I’ve met great people here, three romantic entanglements in 3 months, it’s certainly not been dull. But ultimately the Moroccan culture doesn’t gel with me. For better or worse I prefer a place where eccentricity is more readily visible.
In two days of travelling I’ll arrive for my 30th birthday party. A handful of friends and family and a long weekend of doing next to nothing. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe the party is the reason, this departure feels different than I remember. I’m filled with a sense of joyful excitement. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that I’ll likely never have the desire to live in Morocco again. Either way, I’m looking forward to the journey, the arrival, and the weekend.
The departing train journey gives me a chance to reflect on my time here and my first experience of an Arab country. I’ll also mention that I’m listening to my entire music collection on random, so the wildly different moods may affect my writing.
Morocco has been a genuinely interesting chapter, not least because it gave me the opportunity to share living space with Yusuf. He showed me a truly different approach to life, and much of it was deeply inspiring. His limitless patience, inexhaustible kindness and permanent good nature were a deeply profound experience to witness.
As I sit here on the train writing a new neighbour has arrived and immediately offers to share his lunch with me. There is a warmth and genuine friendliness in Morocco. People are kind and generous. On the flipside, tolerant is not a word I’d use to describe my experience of Morocco. Kind and generous within the somewhat rigid confines of the social norms and religious dictates. While we sit within the norm of acceptable behaviour people are forthcoming, interested and genuinely kind. When their boundaries are touched, it seems like a wall goes up. Much like Scotland I suppose, with boundaries.
Perhaps the most troubling part of my experience here was my radical regression in relation to women. Virginity is sacred here, something to be fiercely protected. It seems like this creates a culture of conflict, both internal and interpersonal. Unmarried men seem to behave like teenagers on a constant search for pussy. Meanwhile women are caught between desire and social pressure. The whole situation is a mess of conflicts. Particularly when men want to shag bitches by night and marry virgins by morning.
That word, bitches, it came to dominate my talk of women in Morocco. I experienced the idea that women are either bitches or virgins, and men are defined by their pursuit of bitches, or the bitchifying of virgins, although the latter is certainly not desirable in every case. She might be a virgin, but she if looks like a bitch, treat her as such. This way of thinking reminded me of my late teenage years when I searched furiously for the validation of bedding women in a vain attempt to plug some hole in my sense of self worth. It took me a good month or so to remember who I really am, and remind myself that actually, I’m not interested in chasing bitches. In the early days in Rabat there seemed to be nothing to do except chase bitches or drink tea with men. Moroccan women are rarely out after 8pm, unless of course they’re bitches!
It’s almost a social class and it reminds me a lot of Thailand. A certain type of woman who doesn’t have a job, is out in bars most nights, and who is considered somehow dirty by “average” society. I found something similar in Morocco. Women who are not sex workers in the street walking sense, but who earn there living through partying and having sex. The social judgement seems to really taint their lives here more so than in Thailand. There’s usually an undercurrent of dishonourable behaviour which somehow seeps into other areas of her life. It seems like there’s a symbiotic relationship between being treated like a bitch and behaving like one.
One of the major differences between Thailand and Morocco in that regard is the law. In Morocco, it is possible to be hassled by the police for having a Moroccan woman in my house. It’s not very common as far as I can tell, but it is possible, and it definitely had me thinking a little more carefully about who invite over. That was a very strange feeling to think that by simply meeting someone and being behind closed doors, I was certainly falling foul of society, and potentially the law. Likewise, kissing in public. I’d definitely have an issue if I was making out with a Moroccan in front of a police officer. Makes for interesting times!
Of course, there is a class of Moroccan woman who lives alone, carries on an independent life, and who is more liberated in her relations to men. I was privileged to come to know two such women in a short time in Morocco. In both cases, they experienced cultural backlash from the benign to the outright violent, but nonetheless they carry on. To me, they represent the future of Morocco in many ways. They are a living example of what is possible. A beacon of light for a more liberal Morocco, a brighter, more progressive Morocco.
These exceptional women somehow manage to escape the bitch / virgin classification and carve out a new class that we might simply call women. They are few and far between, but they exist, and I find their very existence inspiring.
Otherwise, Morocco has been generally fun. It was hot and cheap. I again had that feeling of roaming around living like a king. Taking taxis on a whim, eating every meal out, sitting in cafes without regard for cost, and so on. As appealing and ego massaging as that feeling is, it’s not enough to hold me. So this chapter comes to a close and I roll on out. Another day, another town, another departure, another place left behind. Tomorrow brings a month in Scotland, a month in France, and then we’ll see…
To finish, here’s a random assortment of Moroccan photos to honour my deal with Rob.
This is the view from the airport car park as we wait for mum’s flight to land!
The call to prayer floats over the bay as we sit drinking mint tea watching the sun set here in Rabat.
I went down to check out the venue for Sub Culture Hack yesterday. It’s an awesome barge kindly provided by the Leith Agency. The whole place is decked out in black leather, there’s even an executive foosball table with silver foosmen!
The barge looks like the perfect size for this event. Big enough to get everyone in, but small enough to keep it feeling cozy. There’s plenty of plugs, they’re providing extra switches and ethernet cables, and lots of places to sit. So we’re all set.
Here’s a few snaps.
Here’s a few pics from my recent trip to Eindhoven, Antwerp, Brussels and Leuven.
First, some random shoes on a wire in Eindhoven.
Then buildings rising into the mist in downtown Eindvhoven.
Eva poses by the brown river Dommel that runs through the heart of Eindhoven.
The spectacular Atomium just outside Brussels, seen at night. There are restaurants, hotels and other stuff inside each of the balls. It’s truly incredible to see.
Soraya connected with Talley and she took us out on a dumpster tour of Weisbaden tonight. It was a real treat, we came back with three bags of veggies. We scored German potato pancakes and a jar of better-than-organic apple and mango sauce. Delicious trash dinner with a little bacon from Soraya’s fridge.
Here’s the girls over the bin and over the spoils. Soraya on left, Talley on right.
Tomas kindly volunteered to be the photographer and videographer for Bessy and I’s final ride together. I rode up to the border with Tomas, he parked his bike, then I gave him a lift back to town. Here’s the shots he took. Video coming soon…
A few photos of Bessy for potential buyers. It’s the end of an era, my trusty steed is up for sale in Panama.
The road to Bocas del Torro was closed on Friday so instead we went to Bocas Chica. By a few random twists of fate, we ended up at Pacific Bay Resort, having no idea how much we’d committed to spend. For the first day I thought it was called Paradise Bay Resort, and it absolutely lived up to that name, the place is amazing!
At dinner on night two, once most of our group had left, we got a chance to chat with Frank, the Panamanian born, American brought up, owner of the resort. I talked a little about my vision to build a lodge and his eyes lit up. Then he told me that he has another property, 30 acres, a 10 minute boat ride away. He said he’s having problems with people stealing trees from the property. He wants to protect the wildlife there.
He offered me the use of his land, 30 acres of beach-front, untouched, incredibly beautiful Panamanian coast line. He said if we don’t cut down any trees and don’t build too many structures, he’s happy to let us use the land for free. He had a good feeling about me.
Amazing! The next morning we took a boat ride over to the property to take a look. We left to see the World Cup Final (not my idea!) and then back to Boquete. Now we’re heading back down there to spend a few days looking a the place. No internet there (yet!) so I’ll be offline for a little while. But here’s a few pictures to whet your appetite …
I arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. Phillip had kindly offered me a place to stay. I was in for a treat. Phillip’s Jamaican hospitality was quite spectacular. He cooked, cooked and cooked some more. I was treated to great food, an education on baseball, and hearty conversation.
Sunday afternoon I had assembled a motorcycle gang. I’d invited a few locals to ride. Vicky took my passenger spot and Vasily brought Danni on his bike. Our gang of two motorcycles and four people was born!
We drove around the art gallery that Rocky famously runs up the steps to reach. We parked our bikes at the top of the steps soaked up the view. All the while the words to Bruce Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia were running through my head. Glorious!
From Philadelphia I cruised southwards to Alexandria to visit Margaret. Alexandria is a suburb of Washington DC. The District of Columbia itself is quite small, so the surrounding towns in Baltimore and Virginia are effectively suburbs of DC, albeit across state borders.
Margaret invited me to Alexandria about a year ago. I made a point to stop through on my trip south. I’m really glad I did. Margaret and Brett were wonderful hosts, I’m very grateful to them and their family, I had a wonderful time. Margaret is an incredible cook, I ate more homemade cookies and chocolate cake than I can remember. I perpetually stuffed myself with great food while I was visiting.
On Friday night I had my first Bhangra experience in Washington DC. Wow. I don’t think my words could possibly do justice to this traditional north Indian dance. Instead I’ll share this video I found on YouTube. Picture the upstairs room of a bar packed with maybe 100 people dancing something like this, with a little less somersaulting.
After 4 nights of creature comfort, family home cooking and general relaxation, I left Alexandria and began the 900 mile ride west to St Louis, Missouri. My friend Andrew Chant said I simply had to visit West Virginia. He’d looked at Google Earth and was blown away by extent of the forest. So off into West Virginia I went.
Just before I closed my laptop in Alexandria, I got an message from Kristina inviting me to stay in Elkins. I had sent a few messages asking for places to stay in Elkins and Charleston. Kristina was the first person to accept and she got back to me in perfect time. I set off with Elkins in mind.
Just before leaving New York, I had ordered a few things for the bike. My chain was making some seriously painful sounds, so one of the things I ordered was a new chain and sprockets. JD recommended I replace the chain as soon as possible. He didn’t think the chain would make it the 1’100 miles to St Louis. I was optimistic. He was right!
The chain was delivered to Alexandria so I set off with a replacement chain and sprockets in my luggage. Some 120 miles into the day I turned off the main highway onto the old road. The old road had looked smaller, more winding and potentially more interesting on the map. A mile or two off the highway, there was a loud grinding noise. I dumped the clutch, braked hard and pulled over. I looked down to see the chain dragging on the ground.
The chain was intact, but no longer riding on the rear sprocket. Ok, I thought, I can fix this. I have all the tools to tighten the chain, no big deal. After a bit of wrestling to get the bike on the side stand, then the centre stand, I got the tools out and tightened the chain. It was super loose, so I figured that had caused the derailment. After 20 minutes or so, I was back on the road, we were off.
Not so fast. About 2 miles further, I heard a much louder, much gnarlier grinding noise. I dropped the clutch, but the noise kept up. I slammed the brakes hard and stopped on a gentle hill. This time the chain was caught between the sprocket and the wheel. Not good. After some wrestling I worked the chain free.
Then I got the chain back on and tightened it even more. I started off slowly. I’d heard some unhealthy noises from the chain in New York. Now with the chain so tight the same noise was back. I was about 80 miles from my target for the night, it was almost 3pm, and I had no more than 3 hours of daylight left. The bike sounded really bad above 30 mph, so I spent the best part of 3 hours enjoying the scenery at a very leisurely pace.
I was riding through pretty hilly country. I took it easy on the uphills so as not to stress the chain. On the downhills I put the bike into neutral, turned the engine off, and let gravity do the work. There were points where I reached nearly 50 mph on the downhills.
Just a little after dark, around 6pm, I rolled into Elkins. We had made it. The chain was intact, still attached, and the bike kept moving forwards, albeit slowly. Happy days.
My t-mobile cell phone has no service in Elkins. I’d asked Kristina for her phone number so I could call when I got into town. I wasn’t sure when or if I’d be stopping. Expecting my cell phone to work was a flaw in my plan. No worries, I found a payphone and the $1 for a 3 minute call wasn’t too extortionate. A few minutes later I arrived the house, just in time to meet the housemates, most of whom were in the kitchen cooking dinner. Score.
West Virginia and Elkins have been interesting. Fairly typical of rural USA I think. I’m reminded of visits to Saranac Lake in upstate New York, or Cherryfield, Maine, the blueberry capital of the USA.
There seems to be a mix of people born here and people moved here. The incomers have chosen to come to this place for a reason. Usually people move to places like this for the natural setting, the rural country life and in some measure, I think, to change the world. It takes a special type of person to choose to live in a redneck rural town like this.
I haven’t delved very deeply into the culture here, but I expect I’d find the same uneducated ignorance I’ve seen in other rural north American settings. Those words sound harsher than I mean them to be. I mean uneducated and ignorant in the factual sense, limited access to education and lacking in knowledge.
As I write this, my fives hosts in Elkins are sitting in their living room playing traditional, local Appalachian music. I’m certainly not sure of this, but my guess is that this type of music is kept alive by a mixture of incomers and fairly small group of “intellectual” locals. It seems like a first-world-wide phenomenon. Local culture is given up by the majority of locals while a group of well meaning incomers struggles to keep it alive.
Personally, I feel grateful to be sitting in a house of five musicians listening to them play in their living room. There’s something I like about folk music. Particularly when it’s played live.
Tomorrow I’ll continue eastwards saying farewell to Elkins and passing from West Virginia into Kentucky. I’ve put a few requests out for places to stay in Lexington, I’m waiting to hear. Either way, I have camping gear. It’s pretty damn cold to be camping, but I’m confident I’ll survive.
I’ll sign off with a few pictures from this leg of the trip.
Note: I’m working on the gallery. I’m hoping to launch some improvements soon and make it easier for me to upload images. In the meantime, apologies for any hassles browsing the photos.
Last night one of our hosts in Boston wanted to smoke. We lacked any smoking aparatus. He’d heard you could make a pipe out of an apple. I decided I was up for the challenge. Check out the apple pipe!
I cut a hole into the side with a peeler then poked down through the top with a screw driver. Very neat and it workd like a charm. Here’s me smoking an apple.
Lucy and I left New York City yesterday headed for Ashford, Connecticut to meet Cuzin John. En-route we stopped in my third Portland in the United States. This was Portland, Connecticut rather than Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon.
We arrived in Ashford around 4:30pm to visit Cuzin John. I met Cuzin Bob at a blueberry farm in Maine last week. Cuzin Bob suggested I’d enjoy meeting Cuzin John and told me a little about his place. John lives on 30 acres of land in north eastern Connecticut. They’re almost totally “off the grid” here. Solar and wind power, on-site sewage, well water. Most of their food is grown here on the land. It’s an amazing place.
I’ve learned lots about solar power, batteries, the pros and cons of wires, and more. I’m grateful to Cuzin Bob for the introduction and Cuzin John for his hospitality. I’ll write more on these topics in the future.
This afternoon we’re heading for Boston to stay with Emma and her merry band of roommates. We’ll probably head back towards New York City on Friday.
I just stepped outside and snapped some pics. Here’s a shot of the house nestling in the trees.
Tthe solar array that powers the whole house year round, with a minimal assistance from a wind turbine.
Now the front of the house with Lucy reading on the deck. On the right hand side of this picture you can see the solar water heating that provides all the hot water in summer and pre-heats the water in the darker months. To the left of that is a small gate with an outdoor shower where I washed this morning. Then the left most part of the house is a screen room, see the last picture below.
Here’s the view from behind Lucy looking out at the garden over the deck. The vegetable garden is the first enclosure and the second is the vineyard.
Here’s the inside of the screen room. The windows are insect screens rather than glass, so the breeze blows gently through the whole room. It feels like it would be a wonderful place to sit in the summertime.
James asked for more pictures, so more pictures I offer you.
To start with here’s a few scenic shots on the route from Quebec City to Baie Ste Catherine.
The fourth photo in the set was taken from the bike while in motion.
At Baie Ste Catherine the road runs right onto the ferry dock. There is no bridge across the water to Tadoussac, so 3 boats operate in constant rotation ferrying vehicles back and forth. The crossing is free and takes about 10 minutes. Here’s a shot looking at the oncoming boat as we cross the water.
From Tadoussac it was a short 45 minute ride to Les Escoumins to catch a boat across the river to Trois Pistoles on the other side. Pierre-Yves told me the west side of the river is a lot more beautiful, so I rode up that side to Les Escoumins before crossing over to continue on the east side of the river. It was a beautiful ride, thanks for the advice PY. Here’s a shot of Bessy tied down on the ferry across the river.
I landed in Trois Pistoles around 4:30pm. I had made an early start from Quebec after a short night’s sleep so I was pretty tired on the boat. I rode an hour or two further north looking for places to camp. The coastline north of Trois Pistoles is quite densely populated. There was a house, a town, a shop or some other building every few kilometres. In search of a quiet spot to camp, I turned off the main road into the forest on a dirt road. After another couple of turns on logging roads, I found a clearing where I set up camp for the night.
The next morning I decided to head out of the forest on a different road from the one I came in on. I figured I would find my way out eventually! After riding for a while I realised I’d better be careful of how much fuel I had. I stopped to ask directions at some houses in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was home.
Here’s a shot looking at the bike from between the houses. We were very much in the middle of the forest!
Following the road to the right in the picture above I came to a stop sign. Are those bullet holes? Why yes it appears they are!
At this cross roads, I noticed signs marking quad bike trail 30 trans-Quebec. I figured that would be fun to follow, so I set off on the trail eastwards. As I turned left from the stop sign above, this was the view. I thought it was striking just how deep in the forest I seemed to be.
This is the trail I was following.
After following the trail eastwards for a while, I came upon a road. I decided to check my GPS and follow the roads again. Then I also realised that I had been heading eastwards, which was taking me away from the coast, not towards it. It had lead me back onto the road and so then I turned northwards and set off back on the tarmac heading for the coastal road again.
Further north I was amazed to see a whole field of stopped windmills. All of them were stationary. There seemed to be a wind blowing where I was standing, but not one blade turning. It was quite an enchanting sight.
A little further up the road I saw a couple of people trying to push a car onto the road. They had missed the corner coming out of a lay by and the rear right wheel had dropped into a ditch. I stopped to lend a hand. They’d built up a pile of rocks under the wheel. We piled a few more onto the pile and the car came out like a charm. Looked like there was no damage. They were from Ottawa heading up to Gaspe camping. Here’s the view from the spot where they got stuck with them in the foreground. I forget their names.
Random lighthouse, I had James in mind when I stopped to take this picture.
Here’s a couple of scenic shots somewhere on the west side from Gaspe down to PEI. I’m not sure if these are in Quebec or New Brunswick.
Here’s Confederation Bridge that links mainland Canada with Prince Edward Island. It’s an amazing structure, 13 km long. As I rode towards the bridge, it seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon. I took several photos from the bike as I crossed the bridge, but none of them captured the sensation of driving across. The bridge seemed to stretch out endlessly in front of me. At $17 for a motorcycle, I think the bridge is worth a drive. You only pay to leave PEI, either by ferry or bridge. The ferry is $39 to leave, the bridge $17. If I had arrived by ferry and left by bridge I’d have saved $22! I’ll catch the ferry off the island tomorrow morning for Pictou, Nova Scotia.
On the island I took one of my hosts, Megan, out for her first ride on a motorcycle. She was nervous at first but having a blast by the end of the afternoon. We went to New Glasgow. I had seen New Glasgow on the map in Nova Scotia, apparently there is also a New Glasgow on Prince Edward Island. I was curious to compare it to the original.
We stopped for a bite to eat at the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company, New Glasgow. The tea room is in a wonderful spot. We got a great seat looking at this amazing river view.
Megan ordered a cup of tea which I thought was quite spectacular.
From the window I had seem a man in a kilt driving people around in a golf cart. As we left, I spotted the cart again and stopped to take a picture. The driver is Bruce MacNaughton, owner and host. I mentioned (as the good brotherly salesman) that my brother sells kilts, and Bruce said customers regularly ask where they can buy a kilt. I smelled some business to be done. Bruce gave me a card and I made an email introduction to my bro at BuyAKilt.com.
Then Bruce emailed me back to ask if I’d spend some time with him talking about social networking. I’m heading back to New Glasgow as soon as I finish this post to meet with Bruce.
On the way back to Charlottetown from New Glasgow I snappd this picture of the PEI coastline. I’ve been taken by how similar in landscape this part of Canada is to Scotland. I’m looking forward to visiting Nova Scotia tomorrow.
This post has been a long time coming. What seems like a lifetime ago, back in July, I was in Saskatchewan. In my opinion, Saskatchewan is a little slice of magic, a little gem in the otherwise flat, desolate Canadian prairie. It stands between Alberta and Manitoba as a vision of what is possible on the prairie. Take note neighbouring provinces I say!
It all started at Ness Creek. I arrived the day before the festival started looking to volunteer in exchange for my entrance fee. Volunteering really made the festival what it was. I had a great time, met amazing people, and took away wonderful memories. A friend once told me that going to Burning Man every year is like going home to see the familiy for xmas. I really got a sense of that at Ness Creek. For the week I was there, I was part of a family. A familiy that meets every year in the same place at the same time to create something together. I experienced a wonderful sense of belonging and participation.
The whole experience was made more intense by the fact that I was in the height of a recent spell of depression. I didn’t realise it at the time, but afterwards, after the depression suddenly lifted, I now see it more clearly. The intense emtional experience followed by the harsh solitude of the open road was a very tough transition. I decided not to go to Burning Man this year because I think the transition would be even more intense.
After Ness Creek I ended up at the Forget Summer Arts Festival. These were two very different festivals. Ness Creek is 4’000 young party goers gathering in the forest in a drug fuelled party that goes on well through 6am. At Forget (pronounced in French, like forjay), the main stage finished at 11pm on Saturday night. Forget was a small festival, a few hundred people, put on by members of the local community. It was really fascinating to get an inside view of how the event was produced.
I caught the last year at Forget, the festival has become too much work for the organisers. I really felt that during my time there. People seemed to be straining to keep up with all the tasks they had set themselves. It was an admirable effort and a great event. I also believe it could also have been half as much work, but that’s a post for another day.
Here’s a few snaps and some tales from Ness Creek. I didn’t take any pictures at Forget. To start with, here’s the view of the creek from the bridge. Ness Creek really is a beautiful spot.
That picture was taken from this bridge.
I spent a lot of time with Mark and Amy, father and daughter. Amy is very proud of having built this jeep out of several other jeeps for her dad. Girl power!
This photo gives you a bit of a feel for the festival during daylight hours. This is the main stage.
Here’s my friend Malika on stage.
Here’s me earning my keep as a volunteer.
I heard a Scottish fiddle onstage. Given my volunteering status, I had a backstage pass. So I went backstage afterwards to meet the girls from Pacific Curls, two Kiwis and a Scot. Lo and behold, Sarah Beattie, the Scottish fiddler, went to school with my cousins in a small Scottish town called Inverurie. Here I was at a festival in the Canadian wilderness, some 3’681 miles from Inverurie, and I meet someone who went to school with my cousins, amazing.
Here’s Sarah and the gals on stage.
Finally, here’s a picture of the sun setting (or was it rising?) over the car park. This relays a little of the magic that I felt at Ness Creek.
My room mates in Vancouver grew up in a small town called Fergus, Ontario. My brother is called Fergus. In an afternoon of indulgence, I snapped some pics of Fergus in action.
Welcome to Fergus…
Lots of exciting things to do with Fergus…
There’s even a whole market where all you can buy are Ferguses:
There’s also a whole legion of Ferguses apparently:
Fergus has his very own library.
Plus his own branch of the Ontario Provincial Police, just in case he gets out of hand.
There’s awhole Scottish festival and highland games dedicated to Fergus.
Even a show of antique and classic Ferguses.
I’d guess the newspaper dedicated to Fergus and Elora (I’m assuming she’s a girl) is the place to keep up to date with Fergusly happenings.
The newspaper will no doubt tell of happenings at the Fergus Grand Theatre, very grand it is indeed!
If you spot something you’d like to see at the theatre I’m sure the Fergus travel service will help you get there.
If travelling in the area you might want to read a little about the history of our good man Fergus.
I found a shop where one can purchase one’s very own pet Fergus. How exciting!
If you would like to dine on a little Fergus, I hear this place does an excellent grilled Fergus Tandoori style.
If you plan to eat Fergus at home, be sure to get a Fergus dining card first.
If, having eaten him, you mourn the loss of your Fergus, never fear, Fergus Memorials are readily available!
Finally, remember, Fergus is for you!
I spent the day with the awesome folks at Dual Sport Plus in Stoney Creek, just outside Toronto. I was told that Les, who owns the shop, is a KLR master. He’s a fellow KLR rider and very knowledgeable. He’s ridden KLRs all over the Americas I understand.
In the afternoon I spotted what I suspected was a Google street view car. I was correct. I snapped a few pics.
Turns out the driver was in the shop talking motorbikes. The car is about $16k he said, the cameras and computer equipment $80k! Quite the setup. There are 9 cameras on the vehicle. Four pointing forward / back / left / right, four diagonally and one upwards. Here’s a close up.
Rick is the mechanic at Dual Sport Plus. He’s also a fine fellow and was very helpful today. He talked me thorugh the doohickey upgrade. That’s the technical term! Here’s Rick reading the manual.
In addition to the doohickey upgrade I also changed the oil, switched to a re-usable oil filter, replaced the brake and clutch levers, upgraded the gear shifter pedal and gave the bike a bit of a clean. Here’s a photo once we’ve got the side of the engine off.
The pieces that we’ve taken off are lying on rags on the floor.
Once we got the engine side open, we discovered the piece we were replacing had split into two. The spring that is supposed to hold tension on the chain had completely vanished. It’s probably buried inside the engine somewhere. Now that I’ve got the upgrade installed, the bike sounds much healthier. It almost purrs now. Accelerating no longer sounds like the engine is destroying itself. Happy days.
Big thanks to Rick and Les. If you find yourself in Toronto needing motorbike assitance I highly recommend Dual Sport Plus.
I had the privilege of riding with a few members of the Canadian Bondslave Motorcycle Club recently. I met Gerry “Shot Put” and Bill “William Tell” by the side of the road. I had just returned to my motorcycle to fix a puncture. Almost as soon as I arrived, Bill and Gerry pulled over. After the wheel was back on the bike, they offered to ride with me to Thunder Bay to make sure I made it in one piece. I was grateful for the escort and excited to try riding with others.
Riding with the Bondslave members was my first group riding experience. As a motorcycle club they have a protocol as to how they ride. They ride in formation, side by side in pairs, in tight rows. Road captain, officers, members, probates, guests. At first I was a little nervous of riding so close to other bikes, but after a while I got used to it settled into the formation. As a guest I was usually riding at the back. It’s a very different experience to ride so closely behind another bike.
Usually while riding I’m pushing my awareness of the road as far as I reasonably can. I’m looking to anticipate turns, vehicles, people, animals, road hazards, and so on. Anything that might require me to take action. Riding in tight formation my attention was more closely focused on the bike in front. I placed a great deal of trust in the rider in front of me, trusting him to see the road for me. I would still look ahead somewhat, but most of my attention was on the rider in front and the road between me and their bike.
The riders use hand and foot signals to communicate. For example, if the rider in front’s left leg floats outwards from his bike, he’s warning you of something on the road. A pat on the head means police. A single finger pointed upwards (singalling 1) and touching his helmet means fall into single file.
The formation and signals seem to be an integral part of the spirit of a motorcycle club. The club has a structure, a purpose, a way in which things are done. There are formal and informal rules about how men conduct themselves within the club. There is a protocol to govern riding with other club members. Protocols about colours (the badges that show club membership) and so on.
I was told that the Bondslave club was founded by a man in prison and that many of the members are recovering alcoholics, recovering drug addicts, ex outlaws, and so on. (I believe an outlaw, in this sense, is a person living a lifestyle outside of the law.) These men have found Jesus and have been saved. One of the men told me he had come face to face with death through a drug induced heart attack. He had lost his wife, his children, his family and his health to alcohol and drug addiction. His journey to find Jesus and the resulting faith had saved his life and returned him to his loved ones.
These words might sound light and airy. These men and their stories are not so. When these men tell me they had been saved, I truly believe them. They told me they had made radical changes in their lives that brought their familys, their health, and much more, back to them. I felt honoured and humbled to hear their stories and share in their journeys.
I met 6 Bondslave members Gerry “Shot Put”, Bill “William Tell”, Barry “2 Speed”, Alf “Petra”, Kerry “Salt” and Mike “Lucky”. Each of these men was kind, generous, friendly and only warm towards me. Gerry and Bill stopped to help me without any request. They went above and beyond offering to ride with me to Thunder Bay. They went to Thunder Bay to visit their brothers there. Alf, local to Thunder Bay, arranged accommodation for us in their club house. He showed us the sights of Thunder Bay. He told fantastic stories of his family and his daughters adventures in Sweden and Finland. He offered the use of his garage where we changed my rear inner tube. Later the same day he noticed my tail light was out. Within a couple of hours he had given me a replacement bulb and a spare to carry.
The members said grace before eating each meal. I couldn’t seem to remember that, so mostly grace was said after I had started! A few years ago I would have felt resistance to the idea of saying grace. Now, it felt meaningful to give reverence before eating. The members also shared a number of prayers with me. Again, I would have strongly resisted this in the past. Today, I feel privileged to have shared in these men’s prayers.
I have a slightly different view of divinity and spirituality than the Bondslave members. However, we share a great deal of common belief. I perceive that Jesus is the vehicle Bondslave members use to embody their spirituality and divinity. My own perception is different in appearance, but remarkably similar in fundamentals.
I would like to thank the 6 Bondslave members I met and rode with for sharing with me. Sharing their company, their stories, their prayers. This is a brotherhood of men that I found to be only positive, only kind and generous beyond compare. Thank you.
Now I’ll share some pictures.
Here’s Gerry, me and Bill, bikes in the background, getting coffee at Tim Hortons as we arrive in Thunder Bay.
Bill posing by the shore!
Bessy parked between some of the Bondslave bikes at the Thunder Bay clubhouse. Barry “2 Speed” sitting on the far bike.
A view over Thunder Bay.
A few of the guys showing their colours.
Now their faces and badges. From left to right Kerry “Salt”, Alf “Petra” (our Thunder Bay host), Bill “William Tell”, Mike “Lucky”, Gerry “Shot Put”.
Before Bill and Gerry left for Winnipeg we had breakfast at Kakabeka falls. It’s a beautiful spot.
Looking back upon this adventure, I’m glad to have had a puncture and not had the tools to fix it. The whole experience turned out to be overwhelmingly positive.
On Tuesday 30 June I left Vancouver with Alethia and Elizabeth heading north to Spirit River, some 1’263km or 14 hours 38 minutes away. It was quite the drive. Me on the bike, the girls in the truck. Between lack of cell phone service, misunderstood communication, and running out of gas, it was quite a stressful journey. We went north Tara’s wedding, Alethia’s sister. Finally, we made it to Grande Prairie only an hour late for the stagette.
I joined the boys for the stag the following evening. Most of the night was spent in Showgirls, the local strip bar. I’ve never seen so much cash thrown at women in my life. I reckon the guys spent at least $150 each that night. It was quite an experience. The girls have magnets they use to collect the coins after their show. I was quite impressed, I haven’t seen anything like that in Bangkok.
Tara and Josey were married on Sunday. It was a beautiful day. Sunshine from morning till night, light rain in the small hours. The ceremony and reception was beautiful. Here’s a photo the bride and groom cutting the cake.
After the wedding we spent one night in Grande Prairie then parted company. Alethia and Elizabeth went back to Vancouver and I headed east to Edmonton. It rained, rained and rained some more on my ride to Edmonton. I spent a day in Edmonton with Chris and Jess, thanks guys. Jess was off work sick so we hung out in the house most of the day. I went out to try and buy some gloves, otherwise I spent the whole day in front on the laptop, avoiding the rain.
My road trip really began when I left Grande Prairie. I was on the road alone, with no-one to see and nowhere to be. I started to feel the freedom of the open road. I started taking my time, riding more slowly, stopping more frequently. Aside from the hammering rain, the riding was very pleasant.
From Edmonton my next stop was Saskatoon. Here’s a Bessy against the Saskatchewan horizon.
A self portrait of me suited and booted.
In Saskatoon I stayed with Gina for a couple of nights. We had some fascinating conversations. Gina is the gardener at a hotel in Saskatoon. Here she is tending to her flock.
After staying at Gina’s I was invited to spend the weekend with Thomas and his family at their cabin. Laura, Thomas’s mother, throws one fantastic party. There were 8 of us in total and Laura had brought and prepared enough food for a small army. We were very well fed, I had a wonderful weekend.It was at the cabin I found out about the Ness Creek festival. More on the festivals later.
I took Laura for a ride on the motorcycle. She said on her 50th birthday she decided to try 50 new things, and having done that, she was well into her second 50. It was her first time on a motorcycle and we hit 100km/h, one more for her list.
Here’s the sun setting over the garden at the cabin.
There was a magnificent rainbow over the neighbouring cabins.
While riding in Saskatchewan I saw a sign that said “Point of Interest 1km”. In keeping with my new leisurely pace, I stopped to check it out. I was expecting something of natural beauty, or a building perhaps. No, this is the point of interest.
If you look closely, it’s not just a parking space, there is also a plaque.
I forget that modern Canadian history is somewhat shorter than Scottish history. It seems Canadians are interested in any type of history, no matter how trivial. The plaque says something along the lines of “a buffalo crossed the road here in 1806″. Fascinating point of interest!
It was clear at the wedding in northern Alberta that this was oil country. Young men, big trucks, lots of cash, not much to do. This scene is typical of the Alberta and southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba landscape.
My route across Canada followed the Yellowhead highway to Saskatoon. Most of the way the highway is flanked by a train line. Occassionally I saw seemingly endless trains of one sort or another. Every so often the train line would be punctuated by a towering grain elevator. These serve as the local hubs of the rural grain industry. Farmers deliver and sell their grain to the elevators to be slowly hauled to the sea for export.
I saw this train from a distance and stopped to catch a picture. I tried pacing a train and it seemed to be travelling around 50km/h. A little too fast to run and jump aboard I think.
After leaving Saskatchewan my next stop was Brandon, Manitoba. I was in Brandon to meet family. I knew their names from Christmas cards containing Canadian calendars. It was great to meet them in person. Here’s Mary, Kathy, Andy and I at Clear Lake.
Young Andy lives on a farm outside Brandon. I’m told he was excited about a younger cousin arriving from Scotland. Their last Scottish visitor was in his seventies! He was kind enough to share his trampoline.
I took both Mary and Andy for rides on the bike. Andy seemed to have a blast, he told his parents he wants his own motorbike.
After Brandon I went back to Saskatchewan for a couple of weeks and two festivals. I’ll post more on them later. Now I’ve been back in Brandon for a week hanging out with family and doing various bits of motorcycle maintenance. I’m very grateful to Kathy and Mary for their wonderful hospitality and to Mary’s husband Dan for the use of his workshop. I think I’ll leave Brandon tomorrow continuing eastwards. I’ve been invited to Prince Edward Island, so I might make it all the way to Nova Scotia. I’ll be interested to compare the so-called new Scotland with the original.
I feel like I’m on the road now. I still have one client to maintain during July and August, but otherwise I’m not working. I look forward to the complete freedom to drop off the grid for weeks at a time come September. Bring on full retirement.
In preparation for my drive test tomorrow, and assuming I pass, my new Washington state drivers license, it was time to get rid of some hair. Here’s the before, during and after shots.
Firstly, the hairy me.
The shearing begins.
Trimming the face.
Finally, a skin head is reborn!
Today is my greant aunt Bess’s 98th birthday. Ninety eight years old and still going strong. Bess is the eldest of her siblings, and one of only two still living alone. She’s an inspiration to us all.
In honour of Bess’s birthday I’m naming my motorcycle Bessy. She might be a few years old (in motorbike years) but she’s in cracking shape and good for another decade at least. Bessy and I are all set to ride this continent north to south and back!
Here’s me in my new orange riding jacket looking suitably lop sided.
I had my first dirt biking experience today, courtesy of Kevin Anderson at Dirtbike Camp in Orland, California, USA. Here’s a shot of me suited and booted.
Getting into the gear is no mean feat. You start with the shin pads, which cover from the shin to just above the knee. They go on over your socks. Then come the riding pants which are designed to fit the sitting / standing position on a bike. Then over the pants and shin pads come the boots. Mammoth boots that look like something out of a science fiction movie. They have snazzy plastic clip over buckles and a velcro top section. They feel almost solid once your foot is locked inside.
Put on the jersey. Then the chest protector, slip it over your head and put your arms through the loops to keep the shoulder pieces in place. Now pull on the elbow protectors. Add the dirt bike style helmet with a sun visor and open face section. Over the helmet put on goggles to protect your eyes from all the crap that might collide with them. Finally, put on the gloves, and then you’re ready to ride.
I started on a small, 125cc bike called Lucy. She’s a spirited little beast. Certainly quick enough to get started, and she feels very light when you’re mounted. After flying over the handlebars and nose diving into the dirt, Lucy doesn’t seem so light any more. Trying to get her back upright was not as easy as it looked. But onwards we soldier, it’s not how often you fall down, it’s how quickly you get back up!
The day started with an introduction to dirt biking from Kevin. He talked me through the basics of how to sit and stand on the bike. Stand over bumps and jumps, sit back on the bike in the straights and forward in the corners. Keep your knees in and your elbows out. Stay close to the bars so you’re not pushed around if the wheel turns without your permission.
Then I mounted Lucy and started with circuits round the flat track. Nothing too dramatic, just riding in a circle to get the hang of cornering, accelerating, braking, and so on. After getting a feel for it, Kevin jumps on a bike and says “follow me”. And so it begins…
We start with some fairly gentle corners, lean over, keep your leg out and forwards. That leg really helps if the bike slips in the corners, as it invariably does. Then up and over one or two mounds and round some tighter bends.
As I learned on my basic riding course, the trick to turning a motorcycle is to turn your head. It really is that simple. Look where you want to go and the bike will follow. I’ve had a few panic moments on the highway where I look at the wall, exactly where I don’t want to go, and then harshly remind myself to look down the road. Every time, the bike pulls through. Turn your head. It’s the same on a dirt bike.
Alas, I missed that principle around one ferociously tight turn and somehow managed to leave the bike, face first, over the bars and into the dirt. Thanks to all the various gear it was a non event. I got up, struggled with Lucy until I got her back on her wheels, and fired her up again.
After my quick recovery we were back on the track, following Kevin once more. Now we started over some bigger mounds, and mounds in quick succession, one after another. Pretty soon I realised that Kevin’s bike is actually leaving the ground as he goes over these humps. As we repeat the circuit we’re getting faster and faster, and pretty soon I can feel my bike getting very light at the top of the hills. So feeling fairly confident in my riding thus far, I push the throttle harder and harder.
Yes, I start jumping. The bike is getting some air, as the saying goes. Harder on each of the successive jumps until, on the third jump, my feet fly completely off the pegs. I land half on the pegs, smash down onto the seat of the bike, my feet hit the dirt, and we carry on. That’s the fear Kevin was talking about!
The trick, I’m told, is to hold onto the bike, for dear life in my case. Grip the bike between your knees, toes and heels. Grab onto it and do not let go while aireborne.
After my first mid-air departure from the bike, I took it considerably easier on future circuits. I think my days of adrenaline chasing fearlessness are behind me. No, I lie, I was never even close to fearless. Besides, I decided it was highly unlikely that I would meet any situations on my travels where jumping my motorcycle would be required.
After about two and a half hours of riding, I was exhausted. That and it was 3:30pm, I had 3 hours road riding to get to my destination for the evening, and about 4 hours of daylight remaining. So I took one quick shot on the bigger 250cc bike, closer to my own bike in terms of weight and size, and that was me finished.
Overall, a great experience. I’m definitely a lot less intimidated by the thought of taking my bike off-road now. Lower the tyre pressure, take it slow, and a motorbike will go a lot of places that a car simply will not. Will I be returning to a dirt bike school any time soon? I doubt it. I might pursue some trail riding training, but flying through the air holding onto a motorcycle for dear life is not my vocation. I shall leave it to men better suited to the job than I.